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Reaching our Goals - Using sport to improve wellbeing for vulnerable youth in Malawi

Improving wellbeing, life skills and self-confidence whilst challenging stereotypes through netball

Vulnerable youth in Malawi are faced with low self-confidence and lack of opportunity. We use netball to increase attendance at foundational learning and vocational classes, challenge stereotypes, improve wellbeing and increase life skills. Results showed a 14% improvement in self-esteem, 29% increase in knowledge of sexual reproductive health and rights, and 17% increase in vocational skills.


Information on this page is provided by the innovator and has not been evaluated by HundrED.

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Target group
Students basic
May 2024
Reaching Our Goals gives youth facing barriers to education the confidence and ability to improve their wellbeing and lead the life they choose. Like Chifuniro, who struggled to attend education as a single parent. The project helped her make friends, improved her school attendance and academic performance and gave her vital life skills that benefit herself and her children.

About the innovation

Why did you create this innovation?

In Malawi thousands of marginalised youth have either never received an education, or have dropped out of school without learning basic skills. Girls are at increased risk of sexual exploitation and early marriage, whilst menstruation provides additional barriers. Boys face pressures of child labour. Children with disabilities face bullying and a lack of community support to pursue their education

What does your innovation look like in practice?

Reaching Our Goals is a netball-based programme which encourages vulnerable youth, especially girls and children with disabilities, to attend non-formal learning centres and access social and emotional support to improve wellbeing.

A 2-year curriculum delivered through twice-weekly netball-based sessions by trained coaches covers self-worth, wellbeing, problem solving, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), gender-based violence and gender stereotypes. Netball emphasises cooperation and teamwork. Players bring issues that they face in their household or community and apply the principles of a netball game to find a solution.

Attendance at education centres increased, reaching 75% compared to 70% for non-participating centres, and learner retention improved. Results showed a 14% improvement in self-esteem, 29% increase in knowledge of SRHR, 77% increase in foundational learning and 17% increase in vocational skills.

How has it been spreading?

Following our success, another organisation has replicated this approach in their nutrition programme. Learning has been shared with the Ministry of Education in Malawi, other Malawian sports-based organisations, and our partners in Ethiopia and Uganda. In Uganda, our partner organised a netball tournament with a focus on building wellbeing and social and emotional skills amongst players and supporters.

Over the next 2-3 years, Link will continue to use the learning as a valuable tool within broader projects, particularly those focused on attitudinal change, social and emotional learning, and sensitive topics like SRHR or violence against women and girls. We will use popular sports to challenge stereotypes by, for example, involving boys in netball and girls in football.

If I want to try it, what should I do?

Detailed information on Link's approach to this and other innovations, projects and programmes can be found on our website. We have developed a Sport for Change Approach Paper and an SEL Approach Paper which detail our methods.
We welcome enquiries from potential collaborators and are actively seeking funding partners to invest in both the scaling-up of our work and the creation of new projects.

Implementation steps

Community identification
Undertake community needs analysis using district socio-economic profile to identify participants, understand relevant support structures and allocate resources where most needed.
Sports programme co-design
Work with the target community and government to co-design netball-based activity and integrate with existing non-formal education programmes, including locations, times, coaches, learners and thematic areas to include leadership, safeguarding, safety. Options should also be designed for learners who can’t play netball, for example due to physical disabilities - board games can be used as an alternative.
Curriculum development
Review existing government curriculum focused on wellbeing, social and emotional learning, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), gender-based violence and gender stereotypes. Adapt for sports-based delivery over 2-years and ensure local relevance. Develop learning materials in English, but ensure translation into local languages readily available (e.g. Chichewa in our initial programme) where required.
Development of vocational training options
Engage with local vocational training providers to ensure pathways into vocational learning available after completing programme. Identify relevant markets and opportunities.
Recruitment and training of coaches
With the community, select suitable local coaches, and provide training in facilitation skills, curriculum content, sport-based learning and safeguarding.
Procurement of sports equipment
Purchase goal posts, netballs, netball bibs, board games and other play/training materials
Recruitment of learners
Guided by the community, assess and recruit learners to join the project, with a focus on the most marginalised.
Begin delivery of netball-based learning sessions
Coaches conduct 2 netball sessions per week over 2 years to deliver curriculum content for learners, improving wellbeing, social and emotional skills and problem solving.
Take part in local tournaments
Join local sports tournaments to showcase project activities for wider scale, reach and adoption of programme by other nearby communities, provide motivation to participants and promote the challenging of gender stereotypes.
Hold National Learning Conference
Organise open day to share learning beyond community to district and national level. This can be used to share learning, display best practices, and can also be an opportunity to join national commemorations and integrate into national movements, such as the ‘16 days of activism against gender based violence’.
Support for vocational learning
Support participants to transition into vocational training opportunities.
Undertake monitoring, learning and evaluation
Project staff and government officials conduct monitoring, mentoring and supervision to ensure quality, deliver on targets and report to relevant authorities.

Spread of the innovation

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